Our vineyard, in perfect condition for harvest, April 2011

I love vintage. For me, as a winemaker, it’s like getting a new train set. Full of potential, the opportunities are endless, and all I need to do is take the pieces and create.

But particularly I love vintage in New Zealand. And moreover, I love vintage in Marlborough. I’ve worked vintage in France, Canada and California and I can say that the adage is true—there’s no place like home.

New Zealanders can tend to have a bit of an inferiority complex as a result of our short history and geographic isolation, so as a young winemaker, working vintage somewhere romantically foreign seemed to be the pinnacle. With more than a few years behind me now though, I reflect on that attitude with some amusement. There is no place I would rather be a winemaker than Marlborough.

That’s not to say that I don’t think there’s something to be learnt from other wine regions. Quite the contrary–I think a characteristic that’s unique to New Zealanders is our ability and enthusiasm for looking abroad for fresh ideas. But I don’t think we need to apologise for being a new world producer. New world wines compete with the best of the old world in quality, they’re just different in style.

And this is what is so thrilling about winemaking. That the same variety of grape, grown in two different countries, and treated differently by two winemakers with different experiences, can create two totally unique wines. I love French Pouilly-Fumé as much as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (well maybe not quite as much…) but I never try to compare them. The old and the new world should be equally respected for their unique styles.

But, like I said at the start, home is where the heart is. I love new world wine and I love vintage in Marlborough, and here’s why:

  1. Marlborough is where I was born and bred, but I actually never thought I would end up back here. It’s cliché but parenthood changed my life, and as a Dad, having a sense of connectedness between family, place and work has become more and more important. Living and working in Marlborough does this for me, and the joy this brings is evident in my wine making. Winemaking is about love and love is about human connections. My wine has heart and soul and that’s because I am at home here.
  2. Marlborough is the heart of the New Zealand wine industry and being surrounded by like-minded people is inspirational. Every day I build connections, have conversations, and enjoy shared experiences with other viticulturists and winemakers that influence my winemaking. One of our industry’s great strengths is the camaraderie and this is evident in the united face the Marlborough wine industry presents to the world. Whether it’s lending each other equipment, making a spare tank available, or the respect we have for one-another’s wine, we all know we’re too small to be divided.
  3. Two of the inspirational people I get to work with of course are Brent and Anton. These guys are from Marlborough too and we have a shared passion for showcasing what Marlborough is capable of across all varietals. We all believe in debunking the myth that Marlborough is only good for Sauvignon Blanc, and one style of Sauvignon Blanc at that, and every vintage is an opportunity to bring something new to the table for our consumers. When we’re working through the night for the month of vintage, this mission and the guys I’m on this mission with, is what keeps me going.
  4. I love Marlborough vintage, but I particularly love vintage in the Waihopai Valley at Marisco Vineyards. A large part of my passion is driven from the privilege I feel to be a winemaker here, at a single-site vineyard, in a relatively new sub-region, with it’s own state-of-the-art winery. There’s not much more a winemaker could ask for really! Up until now the Waihopai Valley has been questioned for grape-growing, but with a small handful of other producers, we have proven that there is so much diversity in the soil type here that our fruit develops a broad range of characteristics and from that we can make extraordinary wines from a single-vineyard. Marry this with the technology Brent has invested in and we can find the unique expression in each parcel and produce beautifully nuanced wines, like a boutique vineyard, but on a scale that would shock most people.
  5. And last, but not least, I love vintage at home because I’ve learned so much from harvests abroad. In California and Canada I deepened my understanding of the science of winemaking, and in France of course I developed a real appreciation for putting your soul into your wine. But most importantly, I learned how to take the best from other regions and put a Marlborough spin on it. I also learnt that there are many things that are unique about the New Zealand wine industry, and being relatively young by international standards, that we should celebrate. Heritage has its place, but so does fresh thinking.

I love being home, and making my wine here. I have an intimate understanding of the Valleys of Marlborough because grew up here—the weather, the soil, and what to expect from vintage to vintage. Winemaking in Marlborough is intuitive for me. But it’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I have only really earned to appreciate this by experiencing the old world.

I’m proud to be a new world winemaker and I truly believe our wines are as good as anything produced in the old world. They’re just different.

The dictionary defines different as not the same as another; novel and unusual; distinct. That’s exactly what I want our wines to be and Marisco Vineyards’ 2011 vintage is full of promise. The grapes we’re picking at the moment are unique, delicious and delightful and they represent us. And that’s success for me, bvecause above anything else, great wine should be true to vineyard, and true to self.

Liam McElhinney, Winemaker, Marisco Vineyards